Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fifth Report


1. The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is an Executive Agency of Defra, providing a range of services including the making of rural payments, carrying out rural inspections, and livestock tracing. One of its most important functions is to make payments to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union, principally the Single Farm Payment (SFP). The SFP is a new payment introduced following the reform of the CAP agreed in 2003, which replaced several existing CAP subsidy payments. It was announced in January 2005 that the RPA would start making the new payments to farmers in February 2006; it was subsequently confirmed that it was the RPA's aim to pay 96 per cent of eligible claimants by the end of March 2006.[1]

2. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee launched an inquiry into the RPA in October 2005, in the light of significant concerns about the RPA's ability to meet the deadline for making the new Single Farm Payment (SFP) to farmers in England. The Committee appointed two rapporteurs, David Taylor MP and Roger Williams MP, to carry out initial investigations; they invited written submissions from a range of interested parties and conducted an informal visit to the RPA's Headquarters in December 2005. On 11 January 2006 the full Committee took evidence from Lord Bach, the responsible Defra Minister, Mr Johnston McNeill, the Chief Executive of the RPA, and their officials.

3. At that evidence session, the Minister was unable to tell us definitively whether the payments would be made on time, or whether instead it would be necessary to make interim payments to farmers. In the light of this unsatisfactory response, and other replies from the Minister and Mr McNeill, we have decided to issue this brief interim report, setting out our immediate concerns about the performance of the RPA and Defra in preparing for the implementation of the new SFP. This will ensure that our views - which we believe reflect those of many interested parties - will be known to Government before it makes its announcement on the timing of payments, due at the end of January.[2]

4. The Committee has asked Defra and the RPA for additional written information, following the oral evidence session. In particular, we have asked the Minister for information about the updates and assessments provided by the RPA to Ministers on progress towards meeting the payment target. Once we have considered this further information, we will make a fuller report to the House. That report will address all the issues set out below in greater detail, together with other points which it has not been possible to include in this report. The written evidence received during this inquiry, and any further information submitted by Defra and the RPA following on from the evidence session, will be published with that report, together with the transcript of the oral evidence. References in the footnotes to the oral evidence relate to the transcript as published on the Committee's website.[3]

1   See: "Single Payment Scheme in England - Further Information on Payment Date", Rural Payments Agency news release, Ref 03/05, 19 January 2005 and HC Deb, 18 May 2005, col 1WS. Back

2   Q 152 Back

3   The Committee's website is at:; the transcript is at Back

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Prepared 24 January 2006